A cherished American ritual, the family dinner nourishes the body, mind and heart. The dinner table should be a sanctuary, but for many families struggling to balance busy schedules and stretch tightening budgets, dinner preparation can be daunting. As a growing chorus gives us confusing messages about how and what to eat, it’s easy to understand why this beloved ceremony’s luster is fading.
Americans are increasingly concerned about both the financial and health implications of their food choices. Rising food costs and shrinking budgets make it more challenging to place healthy meals on the table. But some of America’s sharpest minds are hard at work exploring new ways to help us eat better and spend smarter. The Frozen Food Foundation helms this effort. The Foundation’s recently launched Web site (FrozenFoodFacts.org), a comprehensive information resource, is a valuable consumer tool.
While the site is new, the frozen food industry’s commitment to research and innovation is not. In the 1920s, Clarence Birdseye’s technological genius introduced the world to the preserving power of freezing food by making the process practical on a large scale. Birdseye’s development of the double-belt freezer made it possible to freeze food anywhere and at any time of the year. When he developed the first line of frozen foods in 1930, he gave birth to the frozen food industry. Throughout the following decades, the industry grew and introduced new products aimed at meeting a changing American population and lifestyle. From the introduction of the TV dinner to foods prepared in the microwave, frozen foods have become a convenient staple of American life.
Today, the frozen food category embraces every classification of food, including appetizers and snacks, vegetables, fruits, beverages, breakfast items, baked goods, main courses and desserts. In the future, advances in food science and research will provide Americans with an increasing range of healthy, affordable and delicious frozen foods.
The Frozen Food Foundation actively fosters relevant research. In May 2009, it announced a comprehensive, multi-year initiative to compare the nutrient content of select frozen fruits and vegetables to their raw counterparts. Leading researchers at the University of Nebraska conducted the first phase: a global literature review of existing research. Their extensive work produced a comprehensive white paper that described findings and identified the similar nutritional qualities of frozen and fresh fruits and vegetables. Also, their efforts resulted in baseline information to be used in the project’s anticipated second phase: a thorough comparison of the nutrient content of raw and frozen fruits and vegetables purchased at the same time from the same supermarket.
In this next phase, researchers will more closely examine the nutrient contents of raw and frozen fruits and vegetables by replicating the actual conditions under which the products are made available and how consumers behave relative to their purchase. Specifically, nutrient analyses will be conducted immediately after purchase, followed by more analyses approximately four days after purchase, reflecting typical consumer storage behavior. This project is just one example of how the Frozen Food Foundation supports advanced food science research and makes results available to consumers at its Web site.
TAKING THE MESSAGE TO THE STREETS
Freezing is one of the most natural and important food safety technologies. The Foundation promotes its benefits through the annual Freezing Research Award, and its Web site showcases and catalogues results of research it supports. But to complement its efforts to promote advanced food science and research, the Foundation utilizes various platforms designed to raise consumer awareness about the benefits of frozen foods. For instance, in 2008, the Foundation hosted its first 5K Fun Run/Walk for delegates of the AFFI Frozen Food Convention in San Diego, Calif. Proceeds benefited the Foundation’s research work. Since then, this annual event has grown dramatically and became a favorite among convention attendees.
In 2011, when the AFFI Frozen Food Convention moves to San Francisco, the Foundation will expand the 5K Fun Run/Walk by inviting, for the first time, the general public. The intent is to encourage physical activity among children, adolescents and adults. Further, the event will provide a unique opportunity to highlight how the frozen food industry offers healthy and affordable foods that satisfy the tastes and preferences of all Americans. This effort is particularly important in light of increased awareness about the health implications of childhood obesity and the need for a solution. The public can register for the run/walk through the Foundation’s Web site. The streets of San Francisco are expected to be filled with participants demonstrating their commitment to healthy living.
Few industries look to the future with as much hope as the frozen food industry. Market analysts anticipate the frozen category will increase its compound annual growth rate at an average of close to five percent each year for the next five years.
And that’s only a conservative forecast. Recent research published in NPD’s National Eating Trends reveal that America’s 20-somethings are much more likely than consumers in other age groups to use frozen entrees or other food items that are portable and do not require as much preparation. Attracted to the convenience and economic value, young Americans are discovering the health and safety benefits frozen foods offer. As such, the category has a very promising future. As the industry grows, the Frozen Food Foundation wants consumers to view it as a trusted information source and a leading innovator.
Kraig R. Naasz is president of the Frozen Food Foundation and president and chief executive officer of the American Frozen Food Institute, a national trade association that promotes and represents the interests of all segments of the frozen food industry before the U.S. Congress, federal agencies and the media. For more information, visit www.frozenfoodfacts.org and www.affi.com.